By STEVE BINDER
ROCKFORD, Ill. — Agriculture officials have a handful of invasive creatures so disruptive that they merit a spot on the federal list of the country’s “most wanted” damaging pests.
Think of the emerald ash borer, which has destroyed millions of trees, and the Japanese beetle, which can quickly devour plants and shrubs.
Officials with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recently elevated two species of the dreaded gypsy moth to its most wanted list (www.hungrypests.com), while Illinois ag officials have expanded its quarantine area to include four more counties covering the Chicagoland area in an attempt to control the pest’s growing presence. The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) added the counties of Kendall, Kane, LaSalle and Will to the quarantine list, joining Cook, DuPage, Lake and McHenry counties that have been added since 2000.
“The gypsy moth is a voracious invasive pest,” said APHIS spokeswoman Abbey Powell. “Like The Very Hungry Caterpillar – this is the evil version. These caterpillars feed on a wide range of leaves and can kill the tree.”
The quarantine means that no one, including businesses such as lumberyards and nurseries, may transport products out of the eight-county area without them being first inspected and certified as moth-free.
“That’s the call to action … that will destroy them,” Powell said. “People can stop and slow their spread with simple behaviors, so don’t make a move until you check for eggs.”
That includes people going on a camping trip, especially if they leave the eight-county region, and checking their vehicle, tents, supplies, everything for evidence of the pesky pests, particularly the moths’ egg clusters.
The moths are voracious reproducers, laying eggs in droves generally on smooth surfaces that look like brown smears. If discovered, IDOA advises they be dunked in soapy water, which kills them quickly.
If the eggs hatch into caterpillars, they eventually will devour just about anything green, and what makes them tough to eradicate is they don’t have a lot of natural predators, Powell said.
Varieties of the moth, like other invasive pests, were first introduced to North America for well-intentioned purposes. Gypsy moths came from Europe in the late 1800s to interbreed with silkworms to help establish a domestic silk supply. Nowadays, Illinois lays traps to monitor populations and determine where infestation is the worst, and tries to focus the two known treatments in those areas. Biodegradable plastic flakes that are laced with pheromones that confuse sale moths and disrupt the mating process, along with an organic bacterial spray that kills the caterpillars but is safe around humans and pets, are the two best methods for controlling gypsy moths.
Spraying by IDOA and city officials throughout northern Illinois is slated to begin May 1.
“The gypsy moth population in these counties has reached a critical level, where steps need to be taken to protect other areas of the state from this destructive pest,” said Warren Goetsch, the IDOA’s deputy director and Environmental Programs Bureau chief.